Because film is such a powerful medium it naturally becomes a reference point for any stage adaptation. The Talented Mr Ripley is a perfect example, coming twenty years after the big screen version starring Matt Damon and Jude Law. Here the four principal characters, within a self-contained plot, seem to suit the stage well. The understated grandeur of Wilton’s Music Hall also provides a natural atmosphere in which to crank up the tension.
Tom Ripley (Christopher Hughes) is a small time con artist, scraping a living in New York. He is approached by entrepreneur Herbert Greenleaf (Luke Shaw) who asks him to bring wayward son Dickie home from Italy. Ripley agrees even though he barely knows him. Upon arrival, Ripley quickly wins the confidence of Dickie (Christopher York) although friend Marge (Natasha Rickman) is unsure of his motives. A ménage a trois slowly becomes an intimate twosome as Marge is squeezed out of the picture. Ripley’s obsession drives him to wear Dickie’s clothes, whilst Dickie himself begins to tire of his suffocating company. Nevertheless, they decide to take a short break together in San Remo, from which only Ripley returns. Marge meanwhile receives a ‘Dear John’ letter from the now absent Dickie. The net begins to tighten as Herbert, Marge and the police begin to query Dickie’s whereabouts.
The podium style stage of Wilton’s Music Hall gives the impression of a performance in the round, bringing the audience much closer to the action. Smart lighting and ‘action/cut’ stage directions give the play something of a film noir vibe. An excellent ensemble cast brings the story alive with clarity and conviction. The challenge for any psychological drama is to make the audience look into a character’s mind and consider their motivation. It’s not necessarily obvious from the plot or script; some of it must be inferred from nuances in the performance. This production pulls the trick off very neatly with an engrossing portrayal of both story and characters. The overall pace of the play is steady, requiring a degree of concentration on the audience’s part; but the reward is there if you stick with it.
Bearing in mind Patricia Highsmith’s novel was first published in 1955, it still seems fresh in its exposition of ambition, escapism and control. An impressive adaptation of which its creators should be justly proud.
Author: Patricia Highsmith
Adapted and directed by: Mark Leipacher
Producers: Mark Leipacher and Rachel Valentine Smith for the Faction
Box Office: 020 7702 2789
Booking Link: https://www.wiltons.org.uk/whatson/537-the-talented-mr-ripley
Booking Until: This show has completed its current run